Human societies are obsessed with love. Love is apparently both all around and all you need, if you disregard our other needs like food, water, and oxygen. But why, and how, did love become such a prevalent subject for the human race?
Previous studies have looked into whether there may be a genetic or even neurological basis for love. However, a new study has presented the first evidence suggesting that love is linked to reproductive success in humans, possibly indicating an ancient evolutionary basis.
As reported in Frontiers in Psychology, an international team of scientists looked at links between being in love and having children among the Hadza, a hunter-gatherer ethnic group that live in north-central Tanzania. The team used the Sternberg’s triangular definition of love, which includes three key factors: consummate love requires intimacy, passion, and commitment.
"All three of Sternberg's love components could be important in the context of human reproductive success and might be considered as biological adaptations, but they play differential roles in mating," the authors explain in the study.
Their findings showed a positive and consistent relation between commitment and a higher number of children in both men and women. For women, the team also saw a positive one between passion and reproductive success but a negative correlation between intimacy and number of children.
“Our study may shed new light on the meaning of love in humans' evolutionary past, especially in traditional hunter-gatherer societies in which individuals, not their parents, were responsible for partner choice,” the authors wrote.
“We suggest that passion and commitment may be the key factors that increase fitness, and therefore, that selection promoted love in human evolution. However, further studies in this area are recommended.”
The selection of the Hadza was to have a group with similarity in behavior to how all of our ancestors would have once been before agriculture made most of us settlers. The findings are intriguing, but it is important to remember that the experiment is limited. The research is correlational and not causational for example.
It also might underestimate factors related to societal influences. The Hadza might not be an accurate model for our ancestors as their concept of love might be quite different from what it used to be thousands of years ago.
Obviously, the concept of love has evolved and changed with society and it is significantly less dependent on reproductive success today. But the study wanted to see how and why love might have started to be influential in our past, so the link to reproductive success is not a dramatic paradigm shift.
Having concluded that “selection promoted love in human evolution,” apparently, however our concepts differ, it really is all around after all.